The high-profile departures of world-class strikers Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao from Manchester United have left the club looking much less potent up top — on paper, at least. With no word of a looming swoop for a new forward, let us examine Louis van Gaal’s options ahead of the 2015/16 season.
Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney seems the obvious first-choice striker in the squad. Ever since his debut in the side’s 6-2 Champions League victory over Fenerbahce, where he scored a hat-trick and notched an assist, the world knew he was a talent to behold.
Rooney, however, has not played a full season as a center-forward since the 2011/12 season. Instead, he has often found himself playing the role of a midfield provider, and was even dropped as deep as a number six role under van Gaal last season.
The 29-year-old has 230 goals to his name in a Manchester United shirt, and if he meets his target of 34 goals in all competitions this season, he will overtake Denis Law (237) and Bobby Charlton (249) as United’s record goalscorer. His blossoming partnership in preseason with Memphis Depay indicates this might very well be his year.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez
Chicharito similarly enjoyed a bright start to his United career, ending his debut season with 20 goals, and claiming the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, an award voted for by the fans. His clever off-the-ball movement and predatory instincts quickly made him a fan-favorite.
Since then, Hernandez has seen his role dwindle into that of a squad rotation player, as he failed to improve on his prolific first season. The additions of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao didn’t help his cause either, so United agreed to loan him out to Real Madrid, where he scored nine goals in 33 appearances.
The Mexico international will be looking to stake a strong claim ahead of the upcoming season, and looks like he would fit in better with United’s new attacking system. Whether that will be the case, remains to be seen however.
A product of United’s youth academy, 19-year-old James Wilson offers United exactly what van Gaal likes to see in attack — speed. The youngster’s pace led to his selection ahead of Falcao in the club’s home fixture against Liverpool in December 2014, in a move that raised a few eyebrows.
Club legend Teddy Sheringham went so far as to claim that Wilson should have been starting ahead of both van Persie and Falcao last season. Though he has yet to score in United’s pre-season campaign, it was his pass to the overlapping Tyler Blackett that led to United’s second goal against Barcelona, a move that capped a promising performance by the young Englishman. With only two other official senior strikers in the squad, this upcoming season looks to be Wilson’s breakout year.
The 20-year-old Belgian winger by trade, also a product of United’s youth academy, first burst onto the scene during David Moyes’ tenure at the Red Devils, scoring twice to help United come from behind to win at Sunderland. He was arguably one of United’s best performers in what was a dismal 2013/14 season, but failed to impress under van Gaal in the following season.
Januzaj’s performances during United’s tour of the United States, however, point to a resurgence in form. His late strike against Barcelona was deserved, as he put forward an energetic display in his new role as striker. That said, his talents might be best served on the wing or in the hole behind the striker, allowing him more time on the ball to run at defenders.
Another winger by trade, 21-year-old Depay ended last season as the Eredivisie’s top scorer with 22 goals and helped fire PSV to the title. He attracted international attention during the 2014 World Cup when he set up van Persie of the equalizer, and scored the winning goal for the Netherlands against Australia, after coming on as a second half substitute. He was nominated for the tournament’s Best Young Player award along with Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, but lost out to Pogba.
Depay has also already opened up his account for his new club, having scored the side’s second goal against the San Jose Earthquakes. In addition to his pace and skill, Depay also boasts a powerful shot, and is deadly from set-pieces. He knows where the goal is, and certainly has a lot to offer to his side. Should a game come along where United look to play on the counter, Depay would be an ideal candidate to play up top.
Fellaini initially struggled to adapt to life at Old Trafford, managing only 15 league starts and failing to find the net altogether in his first season with the club. Having been David Moyes’ only major summer signing, he was unable to live up to what was expected of him, and was consequently named as one of the “10 worst buys of the Premier League season” by the Daily Telegraph.
Under van Gaal, however, Fellaini found form as he was deployed in a more advanced position, where he was used as a long ball outlet due to his height and aerial prowess. During his time at Everton he also played a more attacking role at times, and in his last season at the club scored eleven goals in 31 league appearances, a career best.
What the 27-year-old Belgian lacks in technical skill, he makes up for with his stamina and combativeness. Should van Gaal elect to play him in a forward’s role, there is no doubt he would be amongst the goals now that he’s settled into the side. The bushy-headed midfielder would prove particularly effective in games where United would look to pepper the box with crosses.